Guest blog by: Christina Mann
I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “easy as pie”. It turns out that pie can actually be a lot of work! Cheese on the other hand one would not associate with the phrase “easy”, but recently I’ve learned that it really can be easy. In fact, there are types of cheese, or other milk made products, that are actually easier to make than pie!
Surprised? I was. My sister-in-law lives in Africa and she can’t get cheese at every market there like we do here. So, she started making her own. While I knew she made cheese, it was not something I cared to ever try without someone experienced to help me. Dairy is on my list of items that make me nervous due to the food poisoning risk.
Learning to make cheese has actually taught me a lot about bacteria and how it works. Cheese-making has been a huge science experiment for me and, frankly, I’m hooked! If nothing else, I can say I’m now not as scared of the milk products as I once was. Milk isn’t the bad guy, bacteria is…or rather it can be. It turns out bacteria can also be the good guy! Its actually good bacteria that make cheese and yogurt so yummy. Really, its just a game. Good Bacteria vs. Bad Bacteria. The goal of cheese making is to load up your milk with good bacteria, so they beat out the bad guys. I suppose it is the same game we play with our bodies, which is why yogurt is so popular for eating after you take an antibiotic. Our bodies need good bacteria.
So far I’ve only made some basic cheese products. The first one I tried was Queso Fresco. My friend mailed me a kit from Williams Sonoma. I just followed the directions that came with it. It was easy and delicious.
The next step in my adventure was having my sister-in-law come over and give me a lesson. (She was in the states for a short visit.) She came over and brought rennet and a mesophilic culture she’s had. She showed me how to make a “Thirty Minute” mozzarella, and cream cheese. She also showed me how to multiply my culture.
After my cheese lesson I was pretty hooked! I went and bought some more supplies including a basic cheese-making kit from www.cheesemaking.com, and some other supplies from a local store. I then branched out on my own to make cheese curds, cultured butter, ricotta, and more cream cheese.
Here are some things I’ve learned so far that I’ll pass on to you:
Cream Cheese) I’ve now made cream cheese four times with various results. My first batch we used some 1% milk I had around the house. It is technically so easy to make you may not even need a stove. You basically bring the milk temperature between 70-80 degrees. Add the culture, wait about thirty minutes then add the rennet, stir six times, then leave it alone for 18 hours or so. (For an exact recipe of this and other cheeses go to Cheesemaking.com’s recipes) Simple right? Well somehow my cheese set in more like 6 hours. It was still edible, just a bit grainy and tart.
Now when something goes wrong with your cheese you have to figure out where it went wrong. Was it the temp, the milk, the amount of rennet, all of the above? My sister-in-law said that one rule for cheese-making is that you need the freshest milk possible because each day it ages it becomes more acidic, which is bad for cheese making.
The other rule for milk is that it can’t be ultra-pasteurized or it doesn’t form curds properly. So, the next batch I changed some things. I used fresher milk, added about a half cup of heavy cream, and used less rennet because my house was a bit warm (82F). That batch turned out better. It set in the correct amount of time, and the texture and flavor was better.
Oh…speaking of flavor. It is different than the store bought cream cheese. It’s flavor also improves after a couple of days in the fridge. It tends to have a bit of a plain yogurt zing to it right when its done, which I personally didn’t care for.
My third batch I made with my friend at her house so I didn’t see the final product. My fourth batch I decided to make with some whole milk. This batch did turn out different than the 1% milk batches. The most notable difference is the drain time. It took a lot longer to drain all the extra whey out. I’m assuming it has something to do with the fat holding onto it.
Butter) Loved It!! I simply added some Flora Danica culture to heavy whipping cream, let it sit in a covered jar on the counter for six hours (in retrospect I’d do more like eight), poured it in my food processor, let my son hit the ON button until it separated from the buttermilk, poured off the buttermilk, rinsed the butter out, and DONE!!! Not only did I have butter, but to my surprise buttermilk, which prior to making my own I thought I didn’t even like. It tasted SO MUCH better than the stuff I bought in a carton. It tasted like drinking butter, but without the fat. SOOOO GOOD.
Mozzarella) This I made with assistance. We made two batches. One low fat. One whole milk. We did the microwave stretching method with the low fat. That batch we over heated and it was hard to get it to stretch. The dipping method was easier…BOTH WERE HOT!!! You may want to have some new, clean, food grade rubber gloves for the stretching process. The whole milk mozzarella definitely had a better texture.
Cheese Curds) Yah…so mine didn’t squeak. I’m not completely sure why. I may have needed to give it more time for the rennet to work. I had already given it more time than the recipe said, so..hmmm.. They did taste pretty good though. Like the cream cheese they tasted better about a week later. It was also pretty hard to press them enough.
Ricotta) I’ve now made ricotta from the leftover whey of the cheese curds and my cream cheese. Both times half my “cheese” was on the bottom of the pot. SO I had to pour it through the cheese cloth, not just spoon it out. Perhaps my whey was too acidic which made the curds sink. I would say the batch made from the cheese curds tasted better. I’m going to guess it was because of the thermophilic culture. Ricotta also tasted better a few days later. (Seeing a trend with the flavor?)
So that is what I’ve learned so far!!! If you would like to give cheese-making a try there are several websites with recipes. My guess is some are more reliable than others. If what you’ve made doesn’t smell good, I’d say don’t eat it. It probably got a bad bacteria in it. It is important to keep a clean work area when making cheese so you don’t introduce bad bacteria to your cheese. Fresh cheese doesn’t keep for too long either. Make sure you check the color and smell it before you eat it if its been in the fridge a while. I’ve learned the hard way that if it has a pink ting its pretty bad.
I would love to hear from you if you are a cheese-maker. Any tips for a newbie? I would like to try aged cheeses next.
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